What does Trump mean for student success?

The election has spurred debate about what value students gain from higher education

A new presidential administration means big changes for higher education. Inside Higher Ed collected insights from various experts about how perspectives on student success and completion are shifting. 

College completion is a goal that leaders in higher education strive for, but stakeholders have different ideas about what successful college completion should entail, especially along political divides. 

"There are fairly clear biases (among Republicans) about moving beyond completion, moving beyond higher education's comfort zone," says Tony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

Conservative lawmakers in particular are concerned about pushing completion rates, as they worry that promoting completion will overshadow academic integrity.

"The question nobody seems to be able to answer is what is the 'right' graduation rate, and I would argue that the answer is 'it depends,'" says Diane Auer Jones, senior fellow at the Urban Institute and former Education Department official during the George W. Bush administration. She argues there is no "right or wrong rate" because completion rates can be "influenced by a multitude of factors" beyond the quality of the institution.

"At what point do we compromise quality or access in the name of higher completion rates? At what point do we drive the cost so high in order to solve one problem that we end up creating another problem?" she asks.

Some are even questioning the value of the traditional four-year degree, now that alternative credentials are increasingly being linked to career success.

"The election has opened up space to talk about high-quality alternatives to the four-year degree," says Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills at New America.

Community colleges are expected to play an important role in preparing students for life after college. Some two-year institutions are even offering competency-based credentials through the federal government.

"The job of the community college is going to be more important in the new administration," says Eloy Ortiz Oakley, Long Beach Community College President and incoming chancellor of the California Community College System, adding "The administration is going to challenge us to be better connected to the economy and work force needs."

The conversation about for-profit higher education will also be revived. While the Education Department has cracked down on for-profit institutions in recent years, Congressional Republicans plan to scale back on federal regulations targeted at for-profits, which will likely have the backing of the Trump administration.

That does instill fear in some community college leaders, who believe that the revival of for-profits will hurt community college enrollments.

An administration that will likely be friendlier to the for-profit education industry presents an "opportunity for us to reintroduce ourselves," says Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the for-profit sector's primary trade group. However, "This sector is not going back to where it was in 2010 when it focused on open access," he says. "We cannot ever endure the experience we have had over the last eight years" (Fain, Inside Higher Ed, 12/8). 

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